Feb 15, 2012

Religious Tolerance Through Social Action

By Anna Gonzales
Some people like sitting through interfaith symposiums and conferences, hearing debates about theology and comparative religions. Others like small group dialogues with facilitated discussions and a meal. For some though, it's just plain boring! They'd rather talk less and do more. Enter the new form of interfaith communications: social action.

Volunteering has always been important for Houstonian communities... whether sponsored by churches or nonprofit organizations, days of service for groups is popular by both adults, students and even seniors. But interfaith volunteering - working together with believers of other faiths to serve mankind - is a relatively new phenomenon. Especially after the events of Sept 11, many people wanted to help others but also learn from those of varying faiths. A happy compromise: social projects involving interfaith groups.
I first became aware of interfaith community projects through a Muslims for Life blood drive campaign at my church. It was amazing to me how people who were not Muslims could support their Muslim brothers and sisters and help carry a banner that publicized another religion. The point of the project was that no one group can change the world on its own, but everyone together can make it happen. It helped remove some stereotypes in my mind about Islam and increased my desire to give my time and effort for similar interfaith activities.
The good news is that Houston has a large number of volunteer opportunities year-round for those interested in both social service and interfaith dialogue. Some, like Compassionate Houston sponsor projects for special occasions such as the anniversary of 9/11. Others, like Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, organize projects year round. For those who cannot find anything specifically interfaith in nature, any social service project can promote religious understanding. Whether working together at a homeless shelter or planting trees for a local park, cleaning up the roadside or sorting food at a pantry, people of all faiths can come together around their common beliefs. What better way to show each other that we all cherish the same things... love our neighbors, help the poor and needy, find the good in everyone?
Anna Gonzales, born and bred in Houston, is a stay-at-home mom who loves to meet people from different religious backgrounds. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.

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